Friday, March 11, 2022

A Fast for the Ages

Taanis Esther or the Fast of Esther is the most unusual fast. We have had several fast days that are scheduled on the Jewish calendar for thousands of years. The fast days are essentially an opportunity to commemorate days of tragedy and despair that occurred to our people over the millennia. A primary example is Tisha B’av which we not only fast but also sit on the floor and mourn the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. The same applies to the 17th of Tammuz, 10th of Teves, and Fast of Gedalia. (A notable exception is Yom Kippur where the fasting is not practiced because we are mourning but rather we are working to reach a state of intense spiritual purity). The Fast of Esther seems like a bit of an anomaly. The Purim story is one where the Jewish People were victorious against the evil forces that conspired to unleash genocide against us. It was Mordechai who collaborated with Esther to convince Achashveirosh to reverse the decree and the pending doom was quickly transformed into a great celebration. Why in the world are we fasting before Purim? The Maimonides in the Laws of Megila provides the following insight. מתענין בי"ג באדר - כי בימי מרדכי ואסתר נקהלו ביום י"ג באדר להלחם ולעמוד על נפשם והיו צריכין לבקש רחמים ותחנונים שיעזרם ד' להנקם מאויביהם ומצינו כשהיו ביום מלחמה שהיו מתענין שכן אמרו רז"ל שמרע"ה ביום שנלחם עם עמלק היה מתענה וא"כ בודאי גם בימי מרדכי היו מתענים באותו יום ולכן נהגו כל ישראל להתענות בי"ג באדר ונקרא תענית אסתר כדי לזכור שהש"י רואה ושומע כל איש בעת צרתו כאשר יתענה וישוב אל ד' בכל לבבו כמו שעשה בימים ההם: Because in the days of Mordechai and Esther they gathered on the thirteenth of Adar to fight, stand up for their lives, and had to ask for mercy and supplications that God would help avenge their enemies and we find a precedent that fasting was conducted on the day of the war as the Rabbis taught that Moshe fasted on the day that he fought Amaleik. Surely in the days of Mordechai, the Jews fasted on those days. therefore all of Israel used to fast on the 13th of Adar and it was called Ta'anit Esther to remember God sees and hears every man in his time of trouble when he fasts and returns to God with all his heart as he did in those days. The Rambam is teaching us something nothing short of remarkable. The purpose of the Fast of Esther is to remind us that whenever we find ourselves in a time of distress we should turn our hearts in prayer while fasting to our Father in Heaven. As the world grows darker by the day, the future in almost every area seems more uncertain than ever. For a community of faith, one area that is tried and true is to tap into the advice of Esther and gather in fasting and prayer. I encourage and implore everyone in the community, including those who do not normally fast on the Fast of Esther to seriously consider fasting on this coming Fast of Esther. The fast is scheduled to begin in Jacksonville on Wednesday, March 16 at 6:24 am and concludes at 8:11 pm. It’s traditional to recite Ch. 22 of Tehilim/Psalms as the Talmud states that Esther prayed these passages as she went in to plead for her people. מי שענה למרדכי ואסתר בשושן הבירה הוא יעננו May the One who responded to Mordechai and Esther in Shushan, answer us as well! Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

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